This week we want to deep dive into Vitamin C in all its glory. Explaining what its skin benefits are, how it actually works, and how to incorporate it into your routine.
Vitamin C for anti-ageing
Vitamin C is required by the body to make collagen, a protein which is produced by fibroblasts in the dermis, and gives the skin its structure & resistance. Levels of collagen start depleting from our late 20s (sigh) so in order to give the skin everything it needs to optimise the rate of production, Vitamin C is a must. It works by stimulating the fibroblasts to produce more collagen. Interestingly, studies have also shown this effect also occurs in newborns, so our bodies at any age can be producing more collagen.
This elevated collagen-production ability is typically reserved for wound healing. When there is a wound in the body that needs healing, additional collagen is produced in order to repair this wound (clever huh?). That’s how skin treatments such as microneedling work - they make micro-wounds which stimulate increased collagen production and voila - plump, firm face.
Vitamin C for hyperpigmentation
Our skin contains cells called melanocytes, situated at the base of the epidermis, which are constantly producing melanin via a process called melanogenesis, giving our hair and skin their natural colour, as well as providing protection against UV light.
In terms of hyperpigmentation, these are areas of the skin which are more densely pigmented than our overall skin tone. This is due to increased activity of the melanocytes, usually either as a result of inflammation such as post-acne scars, from exposure to the sun (more common in fairer skin), or from hormonal imbalances (which science is still trying to figure out).
Vitamin C works to fade hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in the production of melanin. As well as this effect on existing pigmentation, it has been shown to regulate melanin production on exposure to UV, so in effect prevents the melanocyte from over-producing melanin in the first place, to prevent any new areas of hyperpigmentation from forming.
Vitamin C as an antioxidant
The atmosphere is full of free radicals, which are molecules with an election missing (and therefore a positive charge), making them rather reactive. Free radicals are formed when enough energy is applied to the bond which usually joins two atoms (for example O2), and splits them apart. These free radicals need to acquire an electron from somewhere, so they can start to interact with the molecules in our body to essentially steal electrons, and cause cell damage in the process. Free radicals are also produced through smoking, pollution etc so those in cities need to be extra conscious to protect your skin.
Antioxidants work by providing a ‘free’ electron to the free radical, to neuralise it, so it no longer seeks an electron from somewhere else. Most antioxidants are just as happy in an ‘oxidised’ state (when they have given away 1 electron), meaning the reaction stops there, so it protects other molecules from being oxidised.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, so protects our skin from these atmospheric free radicals via this mechanism.
So - is it good to put Vitamin C on your face?
In a word, yes. Although it’s notoriously difficult to formulate with, due to its instability (remember it’s antioxidant qualities?), so if not treated right, it can be fully oxidised before you’ve even got to put it on your face.
There are 2 solutions here. The first is using airless packaging, which prevents any oxygen getting in, and therefore any oxidation from occurring. This is absolutely essential in products containing L-Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C in its pure form). When using this form of Vitamin C, the product should have an acidic pH (3.5-4) to help improve the penetration of the Vitamin C in its active form.
The alternative solution is to use a different form of Vitamin C, which is more stable and can be broken down by the body once absorbed to a more active form of Vitamin C. Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Ascorbyl Glucoside are two more stable variants that have been around for a while, but there are newer, oil soluble variants such as Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate and Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate which have proven to be very effective, and much more stable, making them much easier to formulate with.
Finally - what’s the best Vitamin C for your face?
By now I imagine you are wanting to incorporate this superstar into your daily routine, so here is the low down on some of the best Vitamin C products on the market, whatever your budget.
Best budget serum: Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% & Ferulic Acid Serum - great high potency daily option for any budget
Best mid-range serum: Alpha H Vitamin C and Grapeseed Serum - great mid-price option, also includes hyaluronic acid to hydrate drier complexions
Best big budget serum: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum - if money is no object you can’t go far wrong with this cult buy
Best booster: Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Super Booster - if you don’t want to add another layer to your routine, you can mix a few drops of this 15% Vitamin C booster into your moisturiser instead.
Oil: The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate 20% in Vitamin F - great budget buy for those who prefer an oilier texture. Best used in the PM so you won’t get the antioxidant benefits here.
Moisturiser: REN Glow Daily Vitamin C Gel Cream - Best for combination-oily skin types looking to add radiance without any heaviness.